A little boy approached James Browning at an Angel Tree® party to ask if he too could have a gift. This child had tagged along with some friends, but unlike the other children, his parents were not incarcerated.
"We could not refuse him and gave him a gift," James says.
The next Sunday, the boy returned to church with his entire family.
"[There were] about 15 of them," James remembers. "Every single one of them got saved that day and joined the church."
James credits Angel Tree and Prison Fellowship® for such a miracle.
"He experienced God's love," he explains. "Angel Tree shows [kids and parents] that people do care about them. Not just by giving them gifts but by helping them and showing them how much God loves them."
That relentless, transformative love, James says, is what saved him from a life of crime and violence.
'GET YOUR LIFE RIGHT'
As a teenager, James was part of a gang. For him, fighting was a way of life.
He went to prison for the first time at age 18, beginning a 23-year cycle. And no matter how long he was behind bars, he was always the same James upon his release.
During his fourth prison stint, James had a health scare and was placed in isolation. There he could no longer hide from God.
"Get your life right," he heard God say. But James didn't know how. In-prison ministries like Prison Fellowship wanted him to surrender to Christ. He wasn't sure he could do that.
"Get your life right," he kept hearing God say.
James knew he couldn't live right without God. And he knew that required surrender. So he repented and gave his life to God.
A NEW LIFE
"You are going to help people," God told James in prison. "Some of the people you even hurt."
In 1999, James was released from prison for the last time. He got involved with a local church and with Prison Fellowship.
"For the last 17 years, I have been doing Angel Tree," James says. "It just touches my heart to see kids and their parents have a change of life."
James also mentors men at the Southside Regional Jail.
"Just because you have been incarcerated doesn’t mean you have to lose your life," he explains. "It's just the beginning."
James remembers how his prayerful grandmother would tell him as a child, "Junior, God has something for you."
James has since seen his grandmother's prayers come true.
Today James continues serving the incarcerated and their families through Angel Tree, mentoring, and evangelism.